One of the biggest issues of our time is the accelerating rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers – the U.S., China, EU, Russia, and Japan. Hence, diplomatic rows, sanctions, trade wars, military tensions and, ultimately, major wars between these Great Powers are prominent features of the historic period ahead. The looming Global Trade War between the U.S. and China, the tensions in the South China Sea, the sanctions between the West and Russia – all that demonstrates the highest actuality of the issue of Great Power rivalry.


These developments are closely related to the increasing aggression of the Great Powers against the oppressed peoples – a phenomenon which has massively accelerated since 2001 under the fig-leaf of “War on Terror”.


For these reasons, we have always emphasized the crucial importance of understanding the nature of the imperialist world system. Without such an apprehension of the Marxist theory of the modern epoch it is impossible to recognize the imperialist character of the Great Powers. This is a particularly urgent issue given the emergence of new imperialist powers – China and Russia – which are challenging the long-term masters of the old imperialist world order (the U.S., as the hegemon, and the EU and Japan as its allied powers).


Consequently, a correct theoretical comprehension of the main contradictions of world capitalism is the prerequisite for socialists to take an unambiguous anti-imperialist stand – one of the most important tasks for Marxists today, in particular for those operating in the heart of the imperialist beast.


Such a Marxist program of anti-imperialist struggle inside the imperialist countries themselves has become known as Defeatism, or to be more precise, as Revolutionary Defeatism. This program means, to summarize it in a simple formula, to reject any kind of support for each and every imperialist Great Power, to support all liberation struggles against any of them and to utilize all difficulties and crises in order to advance the class struggle to defeat the imperialist ruling class in all countries. Our organization, the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), has recently published a substantial document on this issue (“Theses on Revolutionary Defeatism in Imperialist States). This programmatic document is republished here as an appendix. [1]


The present book is basically structured in four main parts. In the first part, we deal with several features of imperialism which are relevant for our topic with a focus on the rivalry between the Great Powers. Hence, it is not a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of imperialism but focuses on a few of them. We permit ourselves such a procedure also because we have already dealt with numerous issues of present-day imperialism in other books and pamphlets of the RCIT. [2]


In the second part we discuss the analysis of Great Power rivalry as it has been elaborated by a number of left-wing parties and organizations. In criticizing their position we defend and refine our arguments. In this process we present a number of historical and actual facts. We also compare the arguments of these left-wing organizations with the Marxist theory of imperialism as it has been elaborated by Lenin and Trotsky.


Part three elaborates the essential components of the defeatist program – on the issues of conflicts between Great Powers as well as between imperialist states and semi-colonial countries respectively national minorities and migrants. We explain what the Marxist classics have said on this subject and why it is relevant for today. Furthermore we also analyze which political and social changes have taken place since the times of Lenin and Trotsky and what are their consequences for the program of defeatism.


In the fourth part of the present work we discuss the approach of a number of left-wing organizations on the issue of anti-imperialist struggle. Again, we submit their positions to a criticism from the Marxist point of view and elaborate our arguments with numerous examples. We demonstrate that a number of forces, while claiming to take an anti-imperialist stand, in fact side with one or the other Great Power. In other words, they are not anti-imperialists but rather open or concealed social-imperialists.


We bring the book to a close with a summary of the tasks of Marxists in the struggle against imperialist war and aggression.


Finally, a “warning”: this book is not written from a “neutral” point of view. It is not indifferent to the accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers and the imperialist aggression against oppressed peoples. It takes a stand – a stand against all Great Powers and for supporting all liberation struggles of the workers and oppressed! It therefore polemicizes against those left-wing organizations which, in our view, fail in taking such an anti-imperialist stand. Hence, this work is not written for the purpose of becoming a commercial success but rather as a guideline for anti-imperialist activists. There are already myriads of bestseller on the market. What is needed is authentic Marxist literature! Lenin liked to say that „without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.[3] This intrinsic truth has not lost its importance.


We are fully aware that the issues discussed in this work are not always easy to understand. This is particularly true as we are discussing phenomena which have come up rather recently (like e.g. the emergence of China and Russia as imperialist Great Powers). Many socialists might prefer sticking with old formula like the idea that only the U.S., Western Europe and Japan are imperialist states. However, we consider such “conservatism” as highly dangerous as it misses the crucial changes in world politics in the past decade. Trotsky’s observation about the importance of keeping the theoretical analysis in step with the objective developments remains fully valid.


The vast practical importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in a period of acute social conflict of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation. In such periods, political conceptions and generalizations are rapidly used up and require either a complete replacement (which is easier) or their concretization, precision or partial rectification (which is harder). It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention. In a word, if in the pacific and “organic” period (before the war) one could still live on the revenue from a few readymade abstractions, in our time each new event forcefully brings home the most important law of the dialectic: The truth is always concrete.[4]


We hope that this book will help to clarify the complex theoretical and tactical issues related to the accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers. It will have fulfilled its purpose if it aids activists and all those interested in understanding these issues to get a more comprehensive grasp of one of the most important questions of our time and to draw the necessary conclusions from this.


Finally, this book benefited from collective discussions which the author had with a number of comrades in the RCIT. In particular I want to thank comrade Nina Gunić, with whom I have the privilege to develop jointly ideas and arguments since years and who plays a central role in elaborating the programmatic framework of our theory. Furthermore I want to express my gratitude to comrade Petr Sedov who helped in the elaboration of this book not only with a number of insightful comments but also with providing translations of many quotes from Russian-language sources.


[2] For references to the RCIT literature on these issues see the relevant chapters in this pamphlet.

[3] V. I. Lenin: What Is To Be Done? (1902), in: LCW Vol. 5, p. 369. Many works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other Marxist classics are published at the website of the Marxist Internet Archive,, which is a highly valuable source for anyone interested in Marxism.

[4] Leon Trotsky: Bonapartism and Fascism (July 1934), in: Trotsky Writings 1934-35, p. 35